Still Breathing

Chapter 1

Act 3

(Hey, welcome to the next part of the story. If you are just starting here, please go back and read 'Relearning to Breath' first. It was running a bit long so I decided to flip things over to a new story to help keep things a little easier. Anyway, check out my tumblrs for fan art, dabble fics, requests, chats with the characters and artwork from me. Relearning2breath and stillbreathiing

As another note, the cover art for this book was done by the talented Pipkin who was so terribly kind to draw this image by request! *glomps her to jelly*)


Tavros sat on the couch holding his head. Anatol was behind him, leaning over the couch, her feet kicking the air lightly as she rested her head against his back. Making her small horns poke into his shoulders. Shifting herself over the couch she curled herself up behind her friend and wrapped her arms around him. Tav leaned back a little and sighed rubbing his face. He was, just so tired. He didn't know what he was doing other than it was apparently instinctual.

He just knew that his Mom was hurting and he could feel it. Every fiber of him could feel it. Something was in her that shouldn't be there. It wasn't evil, it didn't want to hurt her, but it was alien to her mind and there was rejection.

Her dreams were trapped in another's memories. Her waking hours spent in pain. But she'd still smile and do her best to take care of everyone.

Gamzee practically haunted the house. Since the Grand Highblood was injured he hadn't left the house at all. Tav glanced up seeing Gamzee leaning against the doorway to the kitchen. Hope was mopping and cleaning counters. She was alright for now. All in her own mind for the moment. Which Tav was grateful for. Since earlier that morning she had been locked in a nightmare of a memory. Tav was exhausted from pulling her back. Ana had whimpered and been clinging to him since. He didn't mind. Ana was a little rough around the edges but inside she was golden as Hope would put it.

Suddenly he found something in front of him, he blinked at the pink and white bunny, with its thick purple threads she and Gamzee had used to patch the toy after Feferi had accidently torn it, were like a proudly displayed battle scar. For a moment he hesitated and then took the bunny, cuddling it close like Ana was cuddling him. He was actually pretty honored that she'd let him hold her toy. He knew how special it was to her. From their time before Hope. Before they were rescued. Ana had been there longer than Tavros. With those bad people who had hurt them. Tav had managed to escape death by hiding in the wreck of Hope's apartment, and when the girl came she had been so kind to him.

He'd nearly forgotten all that had happened to him back then. He still had bad dreams about it sometimes, but Ana he knew had nightmares.

And when she didn't dream about things done to her when she was still a grub, she dreamed of pink bunnies and sky blue.

It's not far. Tavros thought, that he and Ana and Fef had to have those dreams. He'd asked about the grubs from the hive, most didn't make it, but those that did, were not doing very well.

He'd commented to Karkat when leaning against him while Hope slept in the cage Gamzee had created with his long limbs on the new pillow sack that was a gift from Trillians that he thought if those grubs got put with people like Hope. He had his Momma Hope and was doing really well despite what happened to him, so he thought the other grubs who survived being crushed would do well too.

Karkat thought it was a good enough thought to pass along, but he doubted that there was going to be many allowed adoptions any time soon. Not with the threat of war more than a threat. The events at the hive was sparking a huge mess. There was talk about separating trolls and humans. Setting up reservations like the humans had already in the United States, separating out certain people of a racial background.

Tavros and the other kids thought it was stupid. What would they do? Would they try to separate him from his mom? They would survive but it would be painful and hurt very much. But if they tried to separate Feferi from Eric, that would be deadly. Both of them would die. And Tavros was pretty sure that Eridan would grieve himself after them.

Recently the whole house seemed to be getting a bit of a makeover, the Highblood, well, more like Unique as Uncle Highblood was still recovering from his injuries, had ordered to have the house reinforced. There were now metal plates that could be dropped over windows and the walls were being reinforced with all kinds of hard stuff. They were also finishing the pool finally for Eri's lusus. Most all the repairs and add-ons were on the dime of the money that was to go to the Empress' care. It also meant all the kids got new clothing and toys. Which they were more than fine with.

With a sigh Tavros leaned back against Ana and closed his eyes.


Hope felt, disconnected. Everything just felt so wrong. War was breaking out on the horizon. Many places already had reports of even more violence between Trolls and Humans, certain parts of the world had already begun 'separating' the two species to mixed results. This was turning into a mess that was getting out of hand.

As long as there were those on both sides trying to work this out hopefully it would manage to not become a huge fight.

And with trolls like the Orphaner dead, Hope could only dream that things would settle.

After he was gone the things they found out that he'd done. Just how far reaching his insanity had gone.

He'd been playing both sides, convincing extremist humans to attack, and it was him who had gotten the bomb placed in the hive, him who had even gotten that group who had gotten into the hive and took grubs to start within the beginning. He was the one that caused the grubnapping of the Empress. He was the one behind many of the various attacks by humans and trolls. Trying to spark a war. Not just in this area (although it was one of his bigger targets because of the presence of the Mothergrub and the Grand Highblood)

He blamed them, blamed them all for the loss of the prior Empress and his homeworld.

Hope could almost have felt sorry for him if he hadn't been a ruthless ass who nearly raped her and did beat her to the point of her coming very close to dying.

She wasn't going to waist anymore of her pity on the dead troll. She had several living trolls she had to look out for.

During her more lucid moments she'd heard Unique had moved in with the Highblood. Because he needed someone to keep a closer eye on him while he recovered from taking a bullet to the chest at such close range. That Trillians would be reopening again with a few expansions after the attacks. That the Archives were still recovering, although it seemed despite Karkat's best efforts he lost his secretary. Both Lucy and Kanaya now worked at the archive, helping them reorganize and rebuild the lost information from the attacks.

But Karkat gained a new 'second' as it were. The copper blooded troll who had taken control of the office while Karkat had not been able to come in because of the attacks. He was often called "Summoner" because of his ability to connect with animals, (he had found that he was perfectly capable of connecting with earth creatures. One of the few trolls who managed to bridge the gap between the species of his own planet and earth) and get them to do things he asked of them. Karkat had invited him for dinner once. He'd been a card, flirting with the girls in a playful manor and then ended up entertaining the children most the evening. He was good natured and quiet but had a way about him that went past his blood color.

He proved to be more than a passably decent filer, which was all Karkat really wanted in the end, but that he could with John run the office for Karkat when he couldn't be there was a bonus to the other troll who had obligations to home and the future Empress.

Hope set the dish she'd been about to put into the sink on the floor. Not sure when she got down there. Last she recalled she'd been standing and cleaning the kitchen.

Gamzee was right beside her, long arms pulling her to her feet, then he just lifted her off her feet and carried her out. She thought he would carry her to the couch, instead he trotted down stairs and she found herself in the dark dungeon he called a bedroom.

He curled her up under his blankets and sat on the floor next to his bed, just watching her. She blinked at him, for a moment thought she was looking at someone else, but someone she trusted, so she let her mind fuzz out. She felt Gamzee brush back her hair and plant a kiss on her forehead.

"Come back to me." He whispered to her and she blinked at him.

"I'm here."

"You're not" he said softly.

She blinked at him, but then just felt herself go too fuzzy, curling herself into a ball as the pain set in.


Hope didn't know how long it had been when she lost touch with reality. She remembered someone singing, that was about it. When she came back to herself she was curled on her side, it was incredibly dark and a figure was curled up around her. Hope took a long moment to recognize the limbs as Gamzee. Slowly she edged herself out of the bed. The bathroom was singing a soprano aria and she seriously needed to answer that call. When she came back she could see the dim glow of Gamzee's eyes in the darkness. She was in his bedroom. Feeling suddenly uncomfortable her arms went into their locked position behind her and she started to edge towards the door.

"Hope." Gamzee's voice stopped her and she blinked at him. There was just enough light that she could make out outlines and shapes. But not much else.

She could see him shift enough to know he was holding open the covers "Come back to bed." He told her.

"I should go to my own." She started but stopped when he gave her a small growl.

Which made her mad. She stomped her foot "Stop bullying me!"

When she registered that his form started to move, that he was crouched on the bed like a ready cat for the attack she had a feeling she did the wrong move.

"I said," his voice sounded so reasonable "come back to bed Hope, don't make me force you."

She shoved her chin forward stubbornly. Refusing to back down.

And she was always shocked with just how fast he could move when he wanted to. He shot crossed the room and she registered his arms closing around her before he just, tossed her towards the bed.

She landed with an expelling of air. Taking a breath she tried to roll off the bed but he had her caged. Arms and legs on either side of her body his face close to her own. He crouched over her and even in the darkness she could see his super white and very sharp smile.

"you really need to learn better about challenging an indigo Hope" he rumbled softly, his breath against the side of her jaw as he leaned close.

"Especially one that already wants you."

She gulped holding her breath as he leaned over her. Her heart pounding in her chest. Gamzee brought one hand up and rested it against the hollow of throat and shoulder. Her hear pounded wildly under his touch and she couldn't tell if it was fear or something else. Or perhaps a mix of both.

She kept herself very still as she felt his lips just graze her skin along her jaw and neck. Then he shifted to rest his head against her chest, his horns framing her face. He didn't move long enough she carefully reached up and started petting his hair.

Which made him rumble and purr.

Hope was pretty sure that it wasn't an improvement, not with the way the sound seemed to almost echo throughout her body. She stopped moving but he kept up his purring and then she heard him chuckle.

Every ounce of fear left her, she was mad again. He was pulling this shit on purpose just to make her uncomfortable!

So she wacked him in the shoulder, his hand came up and captured hers, pinning it down to the mattress. So she tried to push him off with her other hand just to end up with that one pinned.

"This is utterly unfair." She complained at him. For once she felt completely in her own head. She just wished it was under better circumstances.

Like not being pinned to a mattress by a person who made his intentions towards her very clear.

"you're legs are free." He said blandly.

She glared at him "What is it with you and wanting to make me hit you in the crotch? Seriously! I don't hate you!"

He chuckled, "But if you wanted free. It would make it clear."

"You are just fucked in the head, do you know that?" she said knowing full well the irony of that statement at this moment.

He chuckled at her and leaned down his lips just barely grazing her own "I will not take you by force" he whispered "I will not hurt you." This close she could see clearly his eyes in the dimness, his messy hair falling down over her face and tickling. "Don't you know this by now?"

"I, don't know what to know." She admitted softly "You intimidate me."

"Why?" he asked "Have I not proven, time and again I will never hurt you?"

She had to admit, he had a point. There had already been several times he could have caused her serious damage. From the time at the hive, to recently when he tore another troll apart.

"But, with Or-" she stopped as he gave a warning growl.

"That bastard is dead and will never touch you again!" he snapped, his voice dangerously harsh.

"Karkat had to calm you…"

He gave a tired sigh and she felt his hands loosen enough she was able to tug them free and pull them down close to her chest as she waited to see what he was going to do. He brought his arms down a little braced on either side of her body and rested his head down on the mattress next to her own.

She heard him mumble into the mattress "I did not wish you harm." He said softly "I wanted to claim you. He'd tried to take you away, to claim you instead. You are mine." The last was stated with such vicious conviction.

She sighed "but, I'm human, and you aren't. There are differences." She said.

His lips shut her up. She definitely got the impression that he was planning on showing her just how little he felt those differences meant.

Hope couldn't say if she was going to care about the differences herself when he managed to deepen the kiss. It was still utterly possessive. He kissed her as if he was invading every part of her being. But it wasn't the kiss from the battle field. It was in many ways more akin to the kiss in the laundry room. Hungry, needy, wanting. The kiss parted and she sucked in a breath as if she came up from near drowning.

Only to go under again as he began trailing kisses down her neck. Covering every inch of flesh with tiny nipping kisses.

Her last real coherent thought was that she was going to look like a vampire attack victim when he was done.


Hope was curled up in one corner of the bed were Gamzee had crowded her into. She was fuzzy but not the 'not fully in her own head' way. Just the fuzzy 'what the fuck happened last night' way she got when she drank too much.

Vaguely she recalled the night before. Gamzee had kissed her until she felt her head would spin right off. His hands crawling along her flesh, as he made out with her like they were a pair of teenagers sneaking in some kisses before their parents got home.

Then he stopped. He got up and retreated to the bathroom and left her feeling a bit cool and just trying to get her head on straight again.

She was very confused even now as to if she had even wanted him to stop. She was grateful, that was for sure.

An arm reached out and snagged her, pulling her down close to him. Hope squeaked and he chuckled.

"Let me up" she complained.



"Must pay a toll to the troll" he replied with a growing grin.

"…. You are an evil bastard"

"You want up?" he was practically nose to nose with her.

She sighed "What do you want?"

His lips closed on hers for a long moment. Then when he parted he flopped onto his back and grinned at the flustered look she wore.

"…you… you…." She gave up and just rolled herself off the bed and fled into the bathroom. Making sure to lock the door. This little water closet was small enough as well that she could put a foot on the door from the toilet seat just to be sure. The rest of the bathroom was taken up by the shower stall.

When she came out Gamzee was getting on a clean shirt. Pulling it carefully over his horns so he didn't tear any new holes in his collar. Several of his shirts already had multiple tears around his shoulders and collar.

Hope would think that button ups would be more popular, or really wide necks, what with the horns, but they seemed fond of t-shirts. He'd even seen the Highblood wearing them, and his set went higher than he could comfortably reach with his hands.

Hope walked over and reached up to help pull the hole around the horns and after that he just yanked it down and got his arms into the sleeves. Before she could stop him he grabbed her chin and planted several kisses over her cheeks and nose before landing a light one on her lips.

She gave him a dirty look "I wasn't paying no toll!"

"Nope, reward." He grinned.

She rolled her eyes "Oh seriously!" she cuffed the side of his head and he just laughed at her. "Cut that out!"

"But you turn such fun colors." He told her. Which of course meant she instantly turned even more colors. So she threatened to hit him which made him rumble at her, smiling and eyes giving her an instance half lidded stare.

Which made her pause and she folded her arms instead. Huffing she turned to head up the stairs.

Gamzee found his shoes and got one on, putting the other one on his way up the stairs after Hope.

When he got upstairs Tavros was watching television, none of the other kids were there so they must still be asleep at the other side. Hope was nowhere in sight, so she likely went to change in her room. But Karkat was staring at Gamzee with a raised brow from the kitchen.

"What my best friend?" he asked with a widening grin. Whenever Karkat got that particular look, Gamzee knew whatever came out of his mouth would be funny.

"Do you have to maul her like that?" he demanded.

"Like what?" Gamzee pretended wide eyed innocence.

"Like a victim of crazed octopus attack." Karkat snapped at his friend. Well, secretly he was pleased to see that Hope had not looked scared or put out. A little embarrassed when she realized what he had been looking at, but not upset. She'd just gone upstairs to change and likely shower.

Gamzee just grinned toothily "Maybe I should try harder, if it only looked like an octopus."

Karkat rolled his eyes "I got a call, looks like the Highblood is up and about today, so he is likely to drop by and see how we're doing. He also wants to talk with Hope and Tavros."

"What for?" Gamzee said suspiciously.

"Likely about what's going on in Hope's head." Karkat paused "Its, not good."

"She was ok last night, and she's ok this morning." Gamzee looked off to the side as he took a seat at the bar.

"Could be chance, could be the contact you had with her. I don't know." Karkat made some coffee for himself and pulled out one of Gamzee's preferred sodas, passing that to the other troll who caught it deftly and opened it, "But we need to cover all our bases."

Gamzee sighed and nodded. He knew he was being a bit protective. As the highest level male on the premises, he was a matter of territory.

Gamzee never played well with those who went stepping on his toes.

Especially powerful trolls like Highblood. Who literately had the ability and power as well as position to be able to take anything they want. Including another's quadrant.

The Highblood had his own toys. He didn't need Gamzee's as well, but well the younger troll couldn't help the burning instinct inside that told him to growl and keep the bigger woof beast away from his territory.

Especially since the Grand Highblood was very fond of pushing buttons.

He had not been as bad recently since Gamzee accepted the position under the Highblood as he was in the past, but he still periodically like to push for the hell of it.

"I'll be good" he promised Karkat who had still be watching him. "But I won't let him push Hope or Tav." When it came to those two and Karkat Gamzee was incredibly protective. They were his. His family.

He rather liked that human term. Family.


Notes: Welcome to the first chapter of the 3rd act.